Coalition of Unions, Retailers, Human Rights Groups Appeal to Clinton on Failure to Downgrade Uzbekistan
A coalition of unions, retailers, labor and human rights groups have issued an open letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressing concern at the failure to downgrade Uzbekistan to Tier 3 on the US Watchlist in the State Department's report on Global Trafficking in Persons (G-TIP), released this week. The letter, signed by 18 organizations including the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), American Federation of Teachers, American Apparel and Footwear Association, Retail Industry Leaders’ Association, the United States Association of Importers of Textile and Apparel (USA-ITA), International Labor Rights Forum, Global Works, Human Rights Watch and others, and questions the US decision to keep Uzbekistan at Tier 2:
We were disappointed to note that despite strong language in the interim report, the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, issued today, fails to downgrade Uzbekistan to Tier 3, despite the clearly documented and egregious nature of the country’s state-sanctioned and widespread use of forced child labor. Representatives from our stakeholder coalition met with Ambassador CdeBaca and his staff on May 26. We understood that in order for a country to remain on the Tier 2 Watch list, the State Department would require credible evidence that the country had a written plan that, if implemented, would demonstrate significant effort and dedication of resources to this problem. In this case, there appears to be no such evidence.
Under the "automatic downgrade" provisions of the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a country that has remained on the Tier 2 Watch List for more than two consecutive years should be automatically lowered to Tier 3. This was not done for Uzbekistan and a number of other US allies for political reasons, which in the case of Uzbekistan, has to do with Tashkent's cooperation on the Northern Distribution Network to supply NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Uzbekistan went through a flurry of gestures timed to the G-TIP report as well as the review earlier this month at the International Labour Organisation (ILO). But the hastily-created state-organized commissions and declarations against the use of child labour weren't effective and were even duplicitous in a climate where the state sets cotton harvesting quotas and enforces them through pressure on local administrators and farmers, as the G-TIP report itself explains:
Provincial governors were held personally responsible for ensuring that the quota was met; they in turn passed along this pressure to local officials, who organized and forced school children, university students, faculty, and other government employees to pick cotton.
The coalition noted the recent ruling of the ILO's Committee on the Application of Standards issued at the International Labour Conference:
While noting the establishment of a tripartite interministerial working group on 25 March 2011, the Committee observed that the Committee of Experts had already noted the establishment of an earlier interdepartmental working group on 7 June 2010, for on-the-ground monitoring to prevent the use of forced labour by school children during the cotton harvest. It noted with regret the absence of information from the Government on the concrete results of this monitoring, particularly information on the number of children, if any, detected by this interdepartmental working group (or any other national monitoring mechanism) engaged to work during the cotton harvest. In this regard, the Committee regretted to note that the significant progress that had been made regarding economic reform and growth had not been accompanied by corresponding progress with regard to combating the use of children for cotton harvesting. The Committee expressed its serious concern at the insufficient political will and the lack of transparency of the of the Government to address the issue of forced child labour in cotton harvesting.
Given that the Administration opted not to downgrade Uzbekistan in G-TIP this year, despite failure to progress, the coalition urged Clinton to "make clear to the Uzbek government that full cooperation with the ILO, including acceptance of an ILO mission, is the minimum requirement for it to avoid being downgraded to Tier III in the next Trafficking in Persons report."
The letter was signed by:
American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA)
American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)
American Federation of Teachers
Center for Reflection, Education and Action (CREA)
Child Labor Coalition
Human Rights Watch
International Labor Rights Forum
Media Voices for Children
National Consumers League
National Retail Federation
Not for Sale Campaign
Open Society Foundations
Responsible Sourcing Network
Retail Industry Leaders’ Association
United States Association of Importers of Textile and Apparel (USA-ITA)
Full text: Letter to Secretary Clinton on Uzbekistan